Saturday, December 26, 2015

War and Peace: Getting to know the characters played by Lily James, Paul Dano & James Norton


I wasn’t going to do it. Reading War and Peace was just too daunting a prospect. But then I realized I really wanted to get to know the characters for myself, who Tolstoy told me they were, prior to seeing the Andrew Davies’ scripted version that’s coming out as a six part drama on Lifetime, A&E and the History channel. I’m reading it on my Nook, so the massive 1300 pages is less daunting. No heavy book to carry around, no book mark constantly reminding me how much left I have to read. How much do I have left to read? Somewhere over a thousand pages. I’m just over halfway through the free 189 page sample. When the free sample is 189 pages, you know the full length version is going to be massive! So massive that Davies has said he actually "took the kitchen scissors and hacked War and Peace in two”.
“I absorbed the book in as many ways as I could. Besides my vandalised Penguin paperback, I took War and Peace to Antigua on a Kindle and read it on the beach, and when I got home I had the audiobook in my car, playing over and over until the story felt as familiar as the story of my own life.”
“After reading and rereading, I knew what I wanted for the adaptation: a lively, urgent, youthful drama that would appeal to modern sensibilities and find things in common between our world and Tolstoy's,” he said.
“But I did take a look at one or two previous versions. The 1956 film with Audrey Hepburn now feels stagey and miscast, with middle-aged stars as the male leads, and Hepburn herself frankly embarrassing trying to play Natasha as a 13-year-old.
“The 1972 BBC version felt stodgy, wooden and unbearably slow, with the exception of Anthony Hopkins's electrifying Pierre. I hope we've managed to do better.”
Davies said he considered the character of Natasha, played by Lily James, “possibly the most appealing heroine in literature”. 
As I’ve said I’ve only just begun reading the book but already I couldn’t agree more with what Davies says about the 1956 version starring Audrey Hepburn, Henry Fonda and Mel Ferrer. Just reading the opening pages one has to wonder what the heck were they doing having Audrey Hepburn playing Natasha? And Henry Fonda as Pierre??? Mel Ferrer is obviously too old to play Andrei but to be honest, the young prince is such a moody miserable s.o.b. that he doesn’t seem quite so horribly miscast. But of course they’re all too old to play what is essentially a drama of youth. 




That won’t be a problem with this new BBC version with lovely young Lily James as the irrepressible Natasha, Paul Dano as fat Pierre (Dano must have gained weight for the project) and handsome James Norton as the disillusioned Prince Andrei. At this early point in the novel Pierre is the only person who seems to elicit a genuinely happy response from Andrei. He’s horribly dismissive to his wife. And Pierre, criticized by the entire community for his drunken shenanigans bringing shame on his father, has caught young Natasha’s attention. Like the screenwriter I’m curious to get to know this threesome better and to see how they grow and develop over the course of the saga. 
Lily James as Natasha with Aneurin Barnard as Boris

James Norton and Paul Dano as Prince Andrei and Pierre

Aisling Loftus as Sonya Rostova with Jack Lowden as Nicolai

Gillian Anderson as Anna Pavlovna Scherer with Stephen Rea as Prince Vassily Kuragin

Tuppence Middleton as Helene Kuragin

Callum Turner as Anatole Kuragin with Middleton as sister Helen

 Tom Burke as Dolokhov


The BBC has released a fully gallery of images from the first episode which tracks about where I am with the book. I didn’t to look too closely so as not to spoil it for myself but if you’ve read the book, enjoy!



War and Peace debuts on January 18th. Don’t think stodgy old classic, think passion and youth.

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